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Venezuela


Venezuela has launched the “Petro” cryptocurrency in an attempt to bypass tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States.

Petro is intended to bolster Venezuela’s crumbling economy, which has been suffering from hyperinflation and devaluation for years.
Venezuela claims Petro is the world’s first sovereign cryptocurrency.
Critics say the move is a desperate attempt by the government to raise cash at a time when the country lacks the ability to repay its $150 billion of foreign debt.

Image source Wikimedia

US Extends Travel Ban to North Korea, Venezuela and Chad

Venezuela Crisis: Argentine Airlines Becomes Latest Carrier to Suspend Flights to Caracas

Opposition leaders said the sale constitutes an illegal issuing of debt, while the US Treasury Department warned it may violate sanctions imposed in 2017.
The Venezuelan government says the currency aims to circumvent US sanctions on the economy.
President Nicolas Maduro has said each tokens will be backed by a barrel of Venezuelan crude. Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
A total of 100 million Petros will be sold, with an initial value set at $60, based on the price of a barrel of Venezuelan crude in mid-January.
On February 20, the official website published a guide to setting up a virtual wallet in which to hold the Petro, but did not provide a link for actually doing so.
There was also no information on exchanges.

Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly has ordered fresh presidential elections before the end of April.

President Nicolas Maduro told thousands of his supporters at a rally that he is ready to seek another six-year term.

He said: “It’s the right decision. Imperialism and the right were plotting to take over the economy.”

The opposition is weakened and divided and many of Nicolas Maduro’s main potential challengers are in self-imposed exile or in jail.

However, former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles said the government was so unpopular that it could lose the vote.

He tweeted, urging the opposition to unite to save democracy: “The government and its leaders annoy the majority of Venezuelans.”

Henrique Capriles cannot stand in the presidential vote as he was banned from public office for 15 years in April for mismanaging public funds as governor of Miranda state.

He denies any wrongdoing and says the charges were politically motivated.

Image source Wikipedia

Venezuela’s Main Opposition Parties Banned from 2018 Presidential Election

Venezuela: Henrique Capriles Leaves Opposition Coalition

Nicolas Maduro said the presidential poll would go ahead “with or without the opposition”.

Meanwhile, the former speaker of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup, said the decision to call an early vote was in retaliation against recent EU sanctions against senior government officials.

Henry Ramos Allup accused the government of usurping the people’s legitimate power with the creation of the Constituent Assembly which effectively bypassed the National Assembly.

The election for the Constituent Assembly was boycotted by the opposition.

The country has for several years struggled with shortages of basic items, including food staples and medication.

President Maduro says foreign nations, and especially the US and Spain, are leading a campaign to bring down Venezuela’s socialist government.

The opposition blames corruption and the policies of the Socialist Party, which has been in power since 1999, for rampant violence and the collapse of the economy.

Nicolas Maduro was elected in April 2013 to succeed his mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer.

The president has urged Venezuela’s National Electoral Council to “fix the earliest possible date” to hold the poll.

Nicolas Maduro told his supporters in Caracas: “Let’s get over with this, win the president poll and put an end to the imperialist threat.

“It it was for me, the election would be held next Sunday.”

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The US has expanded its travel ban to include people from North Korea, Venezuela and Chad.

According to the White House, the new restrictions follow a review of information sharing by foreign governments.

President Donald Trump issued a presidential proclamation on September 24.

He said in a post on Twitter: “Making America safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet.”

The restrictions on Venezuelans apply only to government officials and their family members.

The three new countries join five others from President Trump’s original travel ban: Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. However, the new proclamation removed restrictions that were placed on Sudan.

Image source Wikipedia

Donald Trump’s Controversial Travel Ban Comes into Effect on June 30

US Travel Ban: White House Sets New Criteria for Visa Applicants from Six Muslim Countries

Trump Revised Travel Ban Blocked Indefinitely by Hawaii Judge

President Trump’s original ban was highly controversial, as it affected six majority-Muslim countries, and was widely labeled a “Muslim ban”.

The travel ban was subject to a range of legal challenges and several large-scale protests, and is due to be considered by the US Supreme Court in October, having been partly reinstated in July.

The American Civil Liberties Union rights group said the addition of the new countries “doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban”.

It is not yet clear how President Trump’s new proclamation, which changes several key elements, will affect that legal challenge.

The addition of North Korea and Venezuela now means not all nations on the list are majority-Muslim.

The criteria for the new ban list is now based on vetting procedures and co-operation, and the restrictions have now been “tailored” on a country-by-country basis. The White House said North Korea did not co-operate with the US government “in any respect” and failed all requirements – and so all travel to the US by its citizens has been banned. Chad, while an important counter-terrorism partner, did not share terrorism-related and other public information the US required – business and tourist visas for its nationals are suspended. Only “certain Venezuelan government officials and their immediate family members” have been banned – its government has recently been hit with economic sanctions by the US, who now say it does not co-operate “in verifying whether its citizens pose national security or public-safety threats” and does not receive deported nationals willingly.

Most of the restrictions come in the form of suspension of B-1 and B-2 business and tourist visas, and they do not appear to be time-limited in the way that President Trump’s former executive order was.

In a fact sheet accompanying President Trump’s proclamation, the White House said that while Iraq also falls short of the required criteria, the country was not included in the new restrictions “because of the close co-operative relationship between the United States” and their part in fighting so-called Islamic State.

The restrictions come into effect on October 18, but will not apply to those already in possession of a valid visa, the White House said.

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As the crisis in Venezuela continues, talk of the issues escalating into civil war is becoming less far fetched by the day. And certainly, there are plenty of international oars being stuck into the pot – Donald Trump’s in particular. The reality for most of us, however, is that no matter what the news is saying, it’s impossible to get a grip on what is happening on the ground, whichever side you think is in the right.

There is another reality, though – rebel forces are growing, and the kindling for war needs only the slightest spark for things to ignite. Plus, now that President Maduro has won an election, even if you agree with the likes of Smartmatic who claim the ballot was tampered with, the simple fact is that once that constitution is rewritten, it will be challenging to defeat the current leader next time around.

With all this in mind, it’s hardly surprising the election itself was boycotted by the opposition. Given they see it as a phoney election – and with the likes of the United States starting to make less diplomatic noises from the north – it seems sensible that they are doing all they can to avoid legitimizing Maduro and his party. Mexico, Argentina, Colombia and Canada are all throwing their two cents-worth, too, so a waiting game is probably the most useful option.

But for anyone that thinks a rebellion and civil war will see a return to a thriving Venezuela, there are a few troubling questions to answer. First of all, why is President Trump taking so much interest in Venezuela right now? And why are we seeing so much about it on the news? Yes, the reports appear to be damaging for the Maduro government, but we are most definitely seeing a one-sided picture. Many other dictators around the world are going about their business in a much more violent manner, to citizens and political opponents alike, with little to no rebuke in the mainstream news. In fact, some of them have been getting arms deals while the likes of Venezuela get sanctions.

Also, there is little talk of who these rebels really are, who they are being backed by, and what their intentions are. And the reality is that when democracies – however shambolic those democracies are – fall, they are generally replaced with something far worse.

President Maduro doesn’t deserve much sympathy, of course, given the huge mistakes the government have made which have resulted in appalling economic performance. And there is no excuse for the kind of bloodshed and violence allegedly carried out by the government. But for the Venezuelan people who will, no doubt, be severely hurt by a civil war, may not be any better off after one, even if Maduro is overthrown. And there are plenty of others with blood on their hands, too, not just government forces and supporters. Should these rebels find themselves in power one day in the not-too-distant future, one wonders what that power might look like.

Puerto Rican stars Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee have lashed out against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro, accusing him of using their song, global hit Despacito, for political gains.

President Nicolas Maduro presented an altered version of the song during his weekly TV show on July 23.

The reworked lyrics promoted Nicolas Maduro’s plans for a controversial new citizen’s assembly, which will be elected on July 30 to rewrite the constitution.

The singers branded it an outrage.

Nicolas Maduro was seen clapping along to the remix, as his audience danced.

“Our call to the <Constituent Assembly> only seeks to unite the country … Despacito!” go the new lyrics.

Luis Fonsi responded angrily on social media: “At no point was I asked, nor did I authorize, the use or the change in lyrics of Despacito for political means, and much less so in the middle of the deplorable situation experienced by Venezuela, a country I love so much.

“My music is for all those who want to listen to it and enjoy it, not to be used as propaganda that tries to manipulate the will of a people who are crying out for their freedom.”

Image source YouTube

Daddy Yankee posted a picture of President Maduro with a large red cross over it on Instagram and wrote: “That you illegally appropriate a song [Despacito] does not compare with the crimes you commit and have committed in Venezuela.

“Your dictatorial regime is a joke, not only for my Venezuelan brothers, but for the entire world.”

Despacito translates as “slowly”, referring to the speed of the lead singer’s seduction technique.

However, the Venezuelan version strips back the lyrics.

Instead, the new chorus runs: “Slowly, take your vote rather than weapons, and express your ideas. Always in peace and calm.”

Introducing the new take to an audience of supporters, Nicolas Maduro said a creative group had reworked it and he wanted to put it to the test.

“What do you think, eh?” the president asked the crowd.

Despacito Becomes Most-Streamed Song of All Time

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Marleny Olivo: Venezuela Mango-Thrower Gets Flat from Nicolas Maduro

Venezuela has been shaken by often violent protests in recent months, and millions joined a general strike last week.

Some 100 people have died in the unrest, which has further hammered an imploding economy that is running short of food and medicine.

The constituent assembly President Maduro wants to establish would have power to rewrite the constitution and bypass the opposition-controlled legislature.

Critics say the president is trying to cement a dictatorship. He argues it is the only way to bring peace back to the divided nation.

The original Puerto Rican version of Despacito has been a worldwide success, and a version featuring Justin Bieber recently became the most-streamed song of all time.

Another high-profile member of the governing Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, also drew on Despacito recently to score political points.

“As the song says, step by step, slowly and suavely, they [the critics] want to create a coup,” he said, according to local media.

A variety of opposition parodies have also gone viral on social media, including one called Madurito.

Another called Bien Flaquito (Very Skinny) played on Venezuela’s food shortages.

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Venezuela has criticized a joint communiqué by 11 Latin American countries calling on its government to “guarantee the right to peaceful protest”.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez labeled the communiqué is a “rude meddling”.

The 11 countries also condemned the death of six people in Venezuela’s anti-government marches this month.

Venezuela’s opposition is planning a mass protest for April 19.

The government has called on its supporters to hold rival marches.

Venezuela is deeply divided between those who support the government of the socialist President Nicolas Maduro and those who blame him for the economic crisis and want him gone from power.

Image source Wikimedia

There has been a series of anti-government protests in Caracas and other major cities, as well as marches by government supporters.

In their joint statement, the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay rejected the violence, which led to the deaths of six people during the recent demonstrations.

The Latin American countries called on President Nicolas Maduro “to prevent any violence against protesters” and also called on opposition groups “to exercise their right to demonstrate responsibly so that the day remains peaceful with people expressing themselves calmly”.

They also called on the Venezuela government to quickly set dates for elections to be held “to solve the grave crisis which Venezuela is experiencing and which worries the region”.

Regional elections originally due to be held in December 2016 were postponed by the electoral council to 2017, but a date has not yet been set.

Municipal elections are also due to be held in 2017.

Minister Delcy Rodriguez also wrote that “these governments misuse international law to back interventionism in Venezuela to attempt to govern the country from abroad”.

Delcy Rodriguez ended a series of tweets by saying that “there is no imperialist force in this world which can defeat the sovereign people of Venezuela”.

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has defended his decision to scrap the nation’s most-used banknote, 100 bolivares.

The 100-bolivar note withdrawal has prompted protests and looting in several states as the supply of ready cash rapidly ran out.

However, Nicolas Maduro said taking millions of notes out of circulation had smashed the black market.

He also decided to postpone the withdrawal until January 2.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

Nevertheless, some businesses were reportedly still refusing to accept the 100-bolivar notes, even though they remain legal tender until the New Year.

There were more reports of rioting on December 18. In the western state of Tachira people raided warehouses in search of food.

Many said they were afraid of what would happen next, despite the postponement of the withdrawal.

At the Colombian border there were scuffles as people scrambled to buy food and medicine, which are scarce in Venezuela.

Nicolas Maduro said that Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil would remain closed until the 100-bolivar note ceased to be legal tender in January, in order to prevent black market trading.

Venezuelans are only allowed to cross the border on foot for family visits.

In a TV address, Nicolas Maduro said that 300 alleged looters had been arrested.

Addressing opposition parties, the president said: “Don’t come and tell me they are political prisoners.”

Nicolas Maduro accused the riot leaders of taking instructions from President Barack Obama, alleging they wanted to engineer a coup against Venezuela’s left-wing government.

State TV showed a plane arriving on December 18 carrying the first batch of replacement notes, the 500-bolivar.

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Venezuela has decided to close its border with Colombia for 72 hours in the latest measure to combat smuggling gangs.

According to President Nicolas Maduro, the “mafia” operating in border areas is causing huge damage to the economy.

Many items subsidized by Venezuela’s socialist government, including diesel and petrol, are sold at a huge profit over the border in Colombia.

On December 11, Nicolas Maduro announced that Venezuela’s highest denomination bank note, 100-bolivar, would be taken out of circulation.

He said the move would stop gangs hoarding the currency.

“Let’s destroy the mafia before the mafias destroy our country and our economy,” Nicolas Maduro said on national TV.venezuela-pulls-100-bolivares-notes

“This measure was inevitable, it was necessary,” he added.

“The mafias will go bust.”

Venezuela last closed most border crossings with Colombia in August 2015 and it was partially reopened a year later.

In 2015, Colombia complained that it had not been consulted or informed.

However, both sides eventually reached an agreement to cooperate on tackling crime and smuggling along the 1,370 miles border.

The measure caused huge disruption for the people who live and work in border cities.

This time, Nicolas Maduro said the border would be reopened after 72 hours, once the 100-bolivar notes ceased to be valid.

Venezuela’s central bank data suggests there are more than six billion 100-bolivar notes in circulation, making up almost half of all currency.

Venezuelans will then have 10 days to exchange the notes for coins and new, higher-value bills, but only at the Central Bank.

President Nicolas Maduro said the gangs held more than 300 billion bolivares worth of currency, most of it in 100-bolivar notes.

He said there were “entire warehouses full of 100-bolivar notes in the [Colombian cities of] Cucuta, Cartagena, Maicao and Buaramanga”.

On December 11, he said: “I have given the orders to close all land, maritime and air possibilities so those bills taken out can’t be returned and they’re stuck with their fraud abroad.”

Nicolas Maduro’s critics have predicted chaos and doubt that the facilities will be in place for people to exchange all their 100-bolivar notes.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles tweeted: “When ineptitude governs! Who would possibly think of doing something like this in December amid all our problems?”

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Almost four million Christmas toys have been seized in Venezuela after authorities arrested two executives at toy distributor Kreisel.

According to officials, the toys will be distributed to the poor.

They accused the company of hoarding toys and hiking prices in the run-up to Christmas.

Last week, the government issued an order to retailers to reduce prices on a range of goods by 30%.

Business owners say the order is a populist political move, and pushing them towards bankruptcy.

According to Venezuela’s consumer protection agency, Sundde, Kreisel had stockpiled the goods and was reselling them at a margin of up to 50,000%.

Image source Twitter

Image source Twitter

“Our children are sacred, we will not let them rob you of Christmas,” Sundde said in a tweet, along with photos and video of thousands of boxes of toys.

In total, 3,821,926 toys were seized from two warehouses, and would be sold at low prices, it said.

Sundde director William Contreras said Kreisel had claimed the toys were old or discontinued. The agency also posted photos of the two executives being marched from the premises by a squad of heavily armed soldiers.

This is not the first time Venezuela has ordered price cuts on retailers, or mobilized armed units to enforce it.

In 2013, Venezuela introduced laws allowing the government to fix prices and dictate profit margins.

The same legislation limited profits to 30% – the amount often discounted in the compulsory “adjustments” enforced by Sundde at hundreds of retailers in the past week.

The same measures have been used to fix the prices of basic products such as flour, meat and bread – but supply is limited in a country where many people go hungry.

A jar of Nutella – a luxury item – can cost half the monthly minimum wage.

Venezuela’s government is becoming increasingly unpopular as the country’s economic crisis grows.

The country is rich in oil, but international oil prices have fallen in recent years.

The IMF estimates that Venezuela’s inflation – the rate at which prices go up – will hit 2,000% in 2017.

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Venezuela’s parliament has delayed the symbolic trial of President Nicolas Maduro, which was due to take place on November 1.

Henry Ramos Allup, the speaker for the opposition-dominated National Assembly, said the decision was aimed at easing the country’s political crisis.

Image source Wikimedia

Image source Wikimedia

An opposition march on the presidential palace planned for November 3 has also been postponed.

Nicolas Maduro is accused of violating the constitution but claims lawmakers are attempting a “coup”.

The decision to delay the trial follows Vatican-sponsored talks between the two sides, and the release from prison of three anti-government activists.

Last month a referendum process seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro was suspended after the government said that the vote was meaningless.

The president has dismissed the trial as invalid and has vowed to jail participants of any attempt to overthrow his government.

The rise in tensions between the government and the opposition comes despite an agreement last week to hold crisis talks.

Nicolas Maduro is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation. The oil-rich country is facing widespread food shortages and high inflation.

The opposition has been trying to hold a recall referendum that would allow Nicolas Maduro to be removed from office.

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Venezuela’s opposition leaders have staged a general strike to push for a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from power.

Many stores, businesses and schools stayed closed on October 28 and public transport was quieter than usual.

However, adherence to the strike was patchy and poorer areas largely ignored it.

Nicolas Maduro, who had warned companies they risked being seized if they joined the strike, said the walkout had failed.

Speaking to crowds of supporters, the president said the oil industry had ignored the strike, as had basic industries, banks, schools and transport.

Nicolas Maduro also announced measures to offset economic hardship – mostly caused by plummeting oil prices – by promising to implement a 40% rise of the minimum wage. It was the fourth increment this year.

The move has been dismissed by analysts as insignificant when the country faces spiraling inflation.

The center-right opposition coalition is also angry over a decision to block a referendum on removing Nicolas Maduro from power in Venezuela.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

The coalition won a majority in the National Assembly last December and staged huge anti-government protests earlier this week.

The mass demonstrations came after a recall referendum process – an attempt to remove Nicolas Maduro from power – was suspended.

Opposition activists had gathered about 1.8 million signatures petitioning for the referendum, 400,000 of which were validated by electoral authorities.

The process was halted last week after officials said the signature collection process had been marred by fraud.

Parliament voted on October 25 to open a trial against Nicolas Maduro, whom lawmakers accuse of violating the constitution.

The president called it a “political trial” and said anyone who violated the constitution by launching it should be jailed.

Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation and widespread food shortages.

In turn, he has accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, a recall referendum can be held once a president has served half of his term in office and the requisite steps are met.

So far, the opposition has only completed the first step of the process.

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In a surprise move, Venezuela opposition and the government are to meet for crisis talks, the Vatican says, after an intervention from Pope Francis.

Protests have been held in recent days over the suspension of a referendum process seeking to remove President Nicolas Maduro.

The move came after Nicolas Maduro met Pope Francis in an unannounced visit.

The Vatican and regional bloc Unasur will mediate in the talks.

Pope Francis “urged [the parties] to show courage in pursuing the path of sincere and constructive dialogue”, the Vatican said in a statement.Leopoldo Lopez jailed in Venezuela

After meeting representatives from both sides, the Vatican’s envoy to Argentina, Emil Paul Tscherrig, said “a national dialogue” had already started.

He said they had agreed to formal talks on Sunday on Margarita island in the Caribbean.

Nicolas Maduro said “at last” dialogue could begin.

The head of the opposition coalition, Jesus Torrealba, who met Emil Paul Tscherrig, said while talks were important “it can’t continue to be a strategy for the government to win time”.

Another top opposition figure, Henrique Capriles, dismissed the announcement as a diversionary ploy.

“No dialogue has begun in Venezuela,” he said.

Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is blamed by the opposition for Venezuela’s dire economic situation. The oil-rich country is facing widespread food shortages and spiraling inflation.

The opposition is trying to hold a recall referendum that would allow Nicolas Maduro to be removed from office but electoral authorities suspended the process last week.

The official reason was allegations of fraud during the gathering of signatures for the first petition required to enable the referendum.

However, opposition lawmakers have long accused the National Electoral Council of being under the government’s control.

In an emergency session of the National Assembly on October 23, they approved a resolution accusing Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist government of engaging in “an ongoing coup d’etat”.

The Organization of American States also said it was “profoundly worried” by the electoral authorities’ decision.

Hundreds of students protested on October 24 in San Cristobal, a city near the Colombian border. Nationwide protests are planned for October 26.

Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of having links to foreign states, the US in particular, and of seeking to overthrow him to “lay their hands on Venezuela’s oil riches”.

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Opponents of the Venezuelan government marched through Caracas after election officials blocked their attempts to hold a recall referendum against President Nicolas Maduro.

The wives of two jailed opposition leaders headed the marchers who were dressed in white and waved national flags.

On October 20, election officials suspended a petition seeking a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from office.

The move was criticized by the Organization of American States (OAS).

In a statement, 12 OAS member countries, including Brazil, Argentina and Colombia said they were “profoundly worried by the decision taken by the Venezuelan National Electoral Council”.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro said: “Only dictators deny their citizens their rights, ignore the legislature and have political prisoners.”

The election commission said it had halted the recall vote process on the grounds of alleged irregularities during the gathering of signatures for the first petition required by the rules.

On October 18, the council also ordered a delay of about six months in regional elections due at the end of the year and which polls suggested the opposition would have won.

The march was led by two wives of jailed government opponents: Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo Lopez, and Patricia Gutierrez, the wife of the former mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos.

Both have advocated hard-line tactics against the government.

“There’s no obstacle that can defeat Venezuelan mothers, fighting for the future of their children,” said Lilian Tintori who has called for a campaign for civil disobedience.

The two women were accompanied by several thousand marchers, mainly women, dressed in white and carrying Venezuelan flags.

The march is the first of a series of protests the opposition say they intend to organize to try to put pressure on the Electoral Council to revoke its decision.

On October 19, they said they would “retake Venezuela from top to toe,” in a massive street protest on the day which would have been the start of a second petition.

President Nicolas Maduro, who is abroad, called for calm in a TV address.

“I call on everyone to remain peaceful, to engage in dialogue, respect law and order,” he said.

One of Nicolas Maduro’s most powerful allies, Diosdado Cabello, said top opposition leaders should be jailed for attempting election fraud.

Earlier this week, the government placed travel restrictions on eight opposition leaders.

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Leaders of the Venezuelan opposition have accused the government of staging a coup by blocking their drive to hold a referendum on removing President Nicolas Maduro from office.

Henrique Capriles called for nationwide protests next week.

Election officials had suspended a petition needed to organize the referendum.

The move stopped the recall vote that polls said the government would lose.

Henrique Capriles said the coup “had been carried out against all Venezuelans”.

Henrique Capriles has told a crowd of supporters not to feel intimidated and to vote in upcoming local elections

The opposition figurehead said in the protests, called for October 26: “We will take Venezuela from end to end. The whole people will be mobilized to restore constitutional order.”

Earlier the opposition said a court order had barred eight of them from leaving the country.

Reasons for the ban were not given but the council had said fraud had been reported in the referendum process.

The Venezuelan opposition had planned to secure the required signatures for the recall vote next week.

Another of the banned leaders, opposition coalition leader Jesus Torrealba, said: “It’s gratuitous aggression. We are the majority, in the street and in Congress.

“They cannot postpone the change that the country is demanding.”

The opposition controls Venezuela’s Congress but says Nicolas Maduro has power over key institutions such as the electoral authorities and the courts.

The government has accused the opposition of inventing names on the first of two petitions required to endorse the recall vote.

Nicolas Maduro said there had been “a gigantic fraud”, adding: “Their cheating is coming out.”

Diosdado Cabello, also of Nicolas Maduro’s Socialist Party, said: “We hope justice will be served and that those responsible for this swindle will be detained.”

The decision to suspend the referendum process came despite intense international pressure on President Nicolas Maduro from the US and other Latin American countries to allow it to go ahead.

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Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took part in rival marches in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

Anti-government protesters called for President Nicolas Maduro’s removal.

Opposition blames Nicolas Maduro for the country’s economic crisis and accuse the electoral commission of delaying a referendum that could shorten his stay in power.

The president, whose supporters also rallied in huge numbers, accused the opposition of trying to stage a coup.

The government said the opposition had failed to attract the one million people they were expecting in their march, in what the authorities dubbed the “Takeover of Caracas”.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

Nicolas Maduro said at a rally in central Caracas: “The nation has triumphed. They wanted to intimidate the people but the people are here.

“We have defeated an attempted coup that tried to fill Venezuela and Caracas with violence, death.”

Opposition leaders said their protest had gathered at least their anticipated one million people.

Opposition politician Jesus Torrealba said: “We have shown to the world the importance of Venezuela and how much it wants change.”

Protesters said they had enough of the policies of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

A small group of protesters clashed with riot police as the peaceful rally ended.

In the run-up to the march, a number of opposition politicians were detained.

The opposition hopes the march will pressure the electoral authorities into allowing them to launch the second petition needed to trigger Nicolas Maduro’s recall referendum as soon as possible.

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Cuba will not return to the Organization of American States (OAS), says President Raul Castro in a show of solidarity with Venezuela.

OAS Secretary General Luis Almargo has called for sanctions against Venezuela.

At a summit of Caribbean countries in Havana, President Raul Castro called the OAS “an instrument of imperialist domination”.

Meanwhile, former Spanish PM Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has met jailed Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

It was Leopoldo Lopez’s first visit from anyone other than family members or lawyers since the 45-year-old was sentenced to 14 years in prison last year after being found guilty of inciting violence.Raul Castro Cuba US ties

Leopoldo Lopez’s supporters insist he is innocent and say he was jailed on trumped-up, politically-motivated charges.

The meeting at Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas lasted about 90 minutes, according to Adriana Lopez, the opposition leader’s sister.

Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is trying to negotiate between the opposition and the government in Venezuela’s worsening political crisis.

Cuba was expelled from the OAS in 1962 but following a recent thaw in relations with the US it was suggested that the island might return.

However, Raul Castro appeared to rule out the possibility, offering “our most firm solidarity to our brothers the Venezuelan people, to the legitimate government of President Nicolas Maduro”.

President Nicolas Maduro is locked in a dispute with the OAS over opposition demands in Venezuela for a recall referendum.

Luis Almargo said earlier this week that “the institutional crisis in Venezuela demands immediate changes in the actions of the executive branch”.

He has called an emergency meeting of the OAS at which member states will decide whether to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which could lead to Venezuela’s suspension from the OAS.

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Venezuela’s opposition plans to speed up moves to oust the government of President Nicolas Maduro after it took control of the National Assembly.

Parliament speaker Henry Ramos Allup said proposals would be presented in a matter of days – rather than months.

A day earlier, Nicolas Maduro was given backing by the Supreme Court for a declaration of economic emergency, giving him greater powers.

The country is facing a shortage of many staple goods and rampant inflation.

Venezuela’s economy is heavily dependent on oil exports and has suffered substantially in the past year given the sharp fall in crude oil prices in international markets.

Energy rationing has been imposed, blamed by government ministers on critically low water levels caused by drought at 18 of the country’s hydro-electric dams.

The National Assembly speaker and other opposition leaders had previously announced they planned to challenge Nicolas Maduro in six months’ time.

However, Henry Ramos Allup now says Venezuela cannot afford to wait.Henry Ramos Allup on Nicolas Maduro ousting

“Nobody doubts now that that six-month timeframe is too long,” he said.

“It is not we who impose the timing, it is the needs of the country.”

“In the next few days we will have to present a concrete proposal for the departure of that national disgrace that is the government,” he told a news conference.

Henry Ramos Allup called on President Nicolas Maduro to revoke the decree on emergency measures.

He also attacked the Supreme Court over the decree, saying if what it “has done is not a coup, I don’t know what to call it”.

Most if not all Supreme Court judges have been appointed either by Nicolas Maduro or his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez. It rarely rules against the government.

Nicolas Maduro defended the court’s ruling and said the measures were necessary to deal with the crisis.

“This decision was taken by the highest court of the country, in accordance with the constitution,” the president said.

Nicolas Maduro’s decree was issued on January 14. It is valid for 60 days and it can be renewed by the president.

The government says businessmen linked to the opposition have been hiding basic staples such as flour, sugar and toilet paper as part of a strategy to undermine the economy and oust Nicolas Maduro’s democratically elected government.

He was elected in April 2013 to a six-year term, replacing Hugo Chavez, who died of cancer after 14 years in office.

The Venezuelan constitution says that a referendum to replace the president can be called any time after the first three years of his term, which will be in April 2016.

Four million signatures are needed to trigger a recall referendum.

The governing Socialist Party suffered a heavy defeat in December’s legislative election. It lost control of the National Assembly for the first time in 16 years.

Venezuelan educator and opposition leader Manuel Rosales has been arrested on his return to the country after 6 years of self-imposed exile.

Manuel Rosales, who said he wanted to take part in December’s parliamentary elections, was detained shortly after landing in the city of Maracaibo.

The politician ran against the late President Hugo Chavez in 2006.

Manuel Rosales, 62, fled to Peru in 2009 amid corruption allegations, which he says are politically motivated.

He was arrested on October 15 as he arrived at Maracaibo from the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba. He is expected to appear in court in Caracas shortly.

Manuel Rosales is charged with corruption during his term as governor of Zulia state between 2000 and 2008.

He had announced on October 9 that he was planning to return to Venezuela.

Photo AP

Photo AP

Shortly before departing from Aruba Manuel Rosales posted a picture of him boarding.

He tweeted: “With God and the Virgin Mary, preparing to go to Venezuela to meet my people again.”

Venezuela’s Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz had warned that there was an arrest warrant against him.

Venezuelans go to the polls on December 6 for the first parliamentary elections since President Nicolas Maduro was elected in 2013.

Venezuela is facing a serious economic crisis, which the opposition blames on failed socialist policies of Hugo Chavez and his successor, Nicolas Maduro.

The government says Venezuela has been hit by a sharp drop in international oil prices, but it also accuses powerful groups of boycotting the economy to destabilize Nicolas Maduro.

Several other opposition leaders have also been detained since last year.

Last month, prominent opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was found guilty of inciting violence during protests in 2014 in which 43 people – from both sides of the political divide – were killed.

Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison.

The US government and the UN have called for the release of the opposition politicians.

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Eight Brazilian senators visiting Venezuela to meet jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez say they had to flee after their bus was attacked.

The Brazilian opposition politicians were trying to meet former mayor Leopoldo Lopez, who is in jail accused of inciting violence during protests.

The senators said the bus was stoned as it travelled from Caracas airport.

Brazil’s foreign ministry says it will seek an explanation from the Venezuelan government.

One of the senators, Ronaldo Caiado, tweeted: “Our bus was under siege; they were beating and trying to break it. I filmed them throwing stones against the bus.”

Another, former presidential candidate Aecio Neves, said: “We are here to defend democracy and until now the Venezuelan government has shown little appreciation of it.”Brazilian senators attacked in Venezuela

The group returned to the airport and is reportedly waiting to go back to Brazil.

The incident occurred a few hours after the senators landed in Caracas airport.

Earlier this month former Spanish PM Felipe Gonzales left Caracas earlier than expected after his attempts to speak to Leopoldo Lopez, who has been in jail for more than a year.

Leopoldo Lopez is accused of inciting violence during protests last year. More than 40 people, from both sides of the political divide, were killed in months of demonstrations against the government of Nicolas Maduro.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government is wary of foreign support of Venezuelan opposition leaders.

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry said hostile acts against its politicians were unacceptable and promised to seek an explanation from Venezuela.

It released a statement June18 saying:“The Brazilian government regrets the incidents that affected this visit to Venezuela.”

“Hostile acts from protesters toward Brazilian lawmakers are unacceptable,” the statement added.

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Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has granted a flat to a woman after she made her point by hitting him on the head with a mango.

Marleny Olivo threw a mango at Nicolas Maduro while he was driving a bus through the central state of Aragua.

It had a message on it, in which she pleaded for his help.

President Nicolas Maduro displayed the mango with Marleny Olivo’s telephone number on it during a live television show afterwards. He said he had agreed to her request for a flat.

The move, the president said, was part of the “Great Housing Mission of Venezuela”.Nicolas Maduro mango

Marleny Olivo had written a message on a mango: “If you can, call me” – along with her name and phone number. She got as close to the bus as she could when it passed and then tossed the mango at Nicolas Maduro.

In a video that has gone viral in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro can be seen lowering his head when he is hit just above the left ear. He then calmly picks up the mango and displays it to the crowd.

Later he discussed the incident in one of his regular live TV broadcasts in which he displayed the infamous mango.

“She had a housing problem, right? And, Marleny, I have approved it already, as part of the Great Housing Mission of Venezuela, you will get an apartment and it will be given to you in the next few hours.

“Tomorrow, no later than the day after tomorrow, we will give it to you.”

Marleny Olivo said that there was “no evil intent” behind the incident only a desire to fulfill her dreaming of owning a home before she dies.

Nicolas Maduro – who is a former bus driver and likes to connect with ordinary Venezuelans by touring local communities at the wheel of a coach – added that the mango was ripe and that he would eat it later.

In a move to reduce food hoarding and panic buying, Venezuela will install about 20,000 fingerprint scanners at grocery stores across the country.

Over the last year there have been long queues at supermarkets because of widespread shortages of basic goods.

President Nicolas Maduro said the shortages were due to manipulation of the food supply and prices.Venezuela food shortage

Last month the owners of several chains of supermarkets and drugstores were arrested for allegedly artificially creating long queues by not opening enough tills.

Nicolas Maduro has also accused Colombian food smugglers of buying up price-controlled goods in state-run supermarkets along the border.

Last week South American foreign ministers said the region would help Venezuela address the shortages.

The lack of staple foods and medicines in Venezuela has contributed to discontent and to frequent large, often violent anti-government demonstrations.

The economic crisis has been made worse by falling oil prices.

Venezuela’s plummeting currency rates and the falling price of oil by nearly half since November has diminished its supply of dollars to buy imported food.

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Venezuela has given the United States 15 days to dramatically reduce the number of diplomats it has in the country.

Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez said the US should decide which of its 100 diplomats should be sent home.

She said the goal was to bring the balance down to 17 – the number of Venezuelan diplomats in the US.

On February 28, President Nicolas Maduro said the US had been meddling in Venezuela’s affairs.

He said American citizens visiting Venezuela would now be required to apply for visas charged at the same rates levied on Venezuelans wishing to visit the US.

Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela would also issue a list of banned politicians who it considered to have promoted human rights abuses.Delcy Rodriguez Venezuela

Earlier this month the US imposed visa restrictions on unnamed Venezuelan officials it accused of human rights violations and corruption.

The move builds on sanctions imposed last year on Venezuelan officials alleged to have violated the rights of protesters during demonstrations that shook the country in the first six months of 2014.

Nicolas Maduro has frequently accused the US of working with opposition groups against his government.

Earlier this year Nicolas Maduro said the US had attempted to encourage a coup that involved bombing the presidential palace. Washington rejected the accusations as ludicrous.

Venezuela and the US have not exchanged ambassadors for the last five years.

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Venezuela will limit the number of US diplomats working in the country, President Nicolas Maduro has announced.

Nicolas Maduro said he wanted a review and reduction of American diplomatic staff.

American citizens visiting Venezuela would also need visas and there would be a list of politicians who would be banned from entry.

Nicolas Maduro said US meddling had forced him to adopt the new measures.

The president said that the US government had 100 employees working in Venezuela whereas Venezuela had 17 based in the US.

Nicolas Maduro said Venezuela would be charging Americans the same rates for visa as those levied on Venezuelans wishing to visit the United States.Nicolas Maduro imposes visas for Americans

A list of banned politicians would include George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio.

Nicolas Maduro said these were all men who had violated human rights and encouraged terrorism, particularly in Iraq and Syria.

Earlier this month the US imposed visa restrictions on unnamed Venezuelan officials it accused of human rights violations and corruption.

The move builds on sanctions imposed last year on Venezuelan officials alleged to have violated the rights of protesters during demonstrations that shook the country in the first six months of 2014.

The list of officials banned from entering the US was extended to include family members.

Earlier this month President Nicolas Maduro accused the US of working with opposition groups to stage what he said was a coup that involved bombing the presidential palace.

Washington rejected the accusations as ludicrous.

Venezuela and the US have not exchanged ambassadors for the last five years.

Venezuela has indicted Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma for plotting violence against the government – a move strongly condemned by the country’s opposition.

The attorney general’s office said Antonio Ledezma, 59, would remain in a military prison pending his trial.

President Nicolas Maduro earlier accused the opposition mayor of being involved in a US-backed coup.

This comes on the anniversary of the start of protests against Nicolas Maduro’s rule that left dozens of people dead.

On February 20, opponents of President Nicolas Maduro again protested in Caracas against what they described as a crackdown on his political opponents.

The US has also denounced the “systemic intimidation” by the Venezuelan authorities of the country’s opposition.

State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing legitimate, democratic dissent.”Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma indicted

The attorney general’s office said on February 20 that Antonio Ledezma was charged with conspiracy to plot violence against the government.

This came a day after camouflaged police smashed into the mayor’s office in the banking district and carried him away.

President Nicolas Maduro has said the opposition leader must answer “for all the crimes committed against the country’s peace and security”.

Venezuela’s opposition is now demanding the authorities produce any evidence of the alleged conspiracy.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles asked: “Does Maduro think that putting everyone in prison is going to get him 50 popularity points or that he’s going to win elections?”

Antonio Ledezma was on a list of people and foreign powers named by Nicolas Maduro last week as attempting to bring down his administration.

Antonio Ledezma, Caracas mayor since 2008, replied that it was government corruption that was bringing down Venezuela.

Last year, weeks of anti-government protests in Venezuela led to more than 40 deaths.

Venezuela’s economy has been heavily affected by the drop in oil prices and in late January, thousands of people joined an opposition march in Caracas.

Venezuelans voiced dissatisfaction with high inflation, crime and the shortage of many staple goods in the shops.

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Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma has been arrested amid accusations of a coup attempt in Venezuela.

President Nicolas Maduro said the opposition leader must answer “for all the crimes committed against the country’s peace and security”.

Camouflaged police smashed into the mayor’s office and carried him away.

The arrest comes on the anniversary of the start of months of protests against Nicolas Maduro’s rule that left dozens of people dead.Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma arrested

The Human Rights Watch group has called for Antonio Ledezma’s immediate release.

Hundreds of people gathered at the intelligence agency’s HQ in Caracas to protest at the arrest.

Nicolas Maduro said: “Mr. Ledezma, who today by order of the prosecution was captured, must be processed by Venezuelan justice to answer for all the crimes committed against the country’s peace, security, constitution.”

The Caracas mayor was on a list of people and foreign powers named by Nicolas Maduro last week as attempting to bring down his administration.

Antonio Ledezma, Caracas mayor since 2008, replied that it was government corruption that was bringing down Venezuela.

He was taken on February 19 from his office in the banking district.

Opposition legislator Ismael Garcia wrote on Twitter: “I just saw how they took Ledezma out of his office as if he were a dog. They broke down the doors without an arrest warrant.”

A member of Antonio Ledezma’s security detail said about 10 men with guns and a hatchet came for the mayor, bundling him out of the building.

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